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Kids coping with trauma and violence can start finding help at some city recreation centers

The Thomas P. Ryan Jr. center.
City of Rochester
The Thomas P. Ryan Jr. center.

In an effort to help kids navigate the many challenges they face on a daily basis, the city of Rochester is beginning a pilot program at four of its recreation centers.

Starting this week, one licensed child and family therapist and one social learning specialist will be on hand throughout the day at four R-Center locations:

  • Tyshaun Cauldwell R-Center for Hope, 524 Campbell St.
  • Thomas P. Ryan R-Center, 350 Webster Ave.
  • The Honorable Willie Walker Lightfoot R-Center for Equity and Justice, 271 Flint St.
  • David F. Gantt R-Center, 700 North St.

Each of the four centers will host an information session on the new program beginning this week.

They are scheduled from 6 to 7 p.m. July 12 at the Cauldwell center; July 26 at the Ryan center; Aug. 9 at the Lightfoot center; and Aug. 23 at the Gantt center.

Shirley Green, the city's commissioner of recreation and human service, said the idea is to allow young people to develop relationships with the mental health professionals so they feel safe in confiding in them.

"When you think about the violence and how angry kids can be," Green said, "if they have these skills which are embedded with them, doing fun activities, doing natural play, they are more likely to transfer those skills when they are engaged with a true conflict."

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She added that the effort ties in to Mayor Malik Evans' goal of focusing on the needs of young people as a way of decreasing violence.

An important component of the program, she explained, is to embed the mental health professionals directly into R-Center programming, so children are able to turn to them in a less formal way.

"We don't want it to feel like, 'I have to go to the room and set up an appointment,'" Green said. "It's about that relationship. So, as I'm playing pool and I'm starting to experience something, I see my social learning specialist ... I can just have a conversation with them."

If necessary, she said, the therapists will work with a child's family, too.

During the yearlong pilot program, the mental health professionals will be able to move back and forth between any of the city's 11 R-Centers if the need arises.

Green said the pilot program will be re-evaluated after one year. The costs through December 2024, totaling $933,334, come from the city's share of American Rescue Plan dollars.

The Department of Recreation and Human Services has the option of renewing the program for an additional two years. Green said if the city wants to extend it beyond that, other funding sources must be identified.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.